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Salvation Lake
By Annah Mackenzie

"Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord."
-Acts 3:19

It was a sweltering Friday evening in July, the Pennsylvania sky stretching yellow and red across the forest, screaming for a storm. Even in the valley the heat hadn't broken all week. Sitting cross-legged in the grass, sunburned, with mud in our flip-flops and mosquito bites on our arms, my cabin-mates and I pretended to listen to the Reverend Andy extolling the various blessings we would each accrue after inviting Jesus into our young lives. Restless, we ripped patches of earth from the ground, hurled them at each other and giggled, nervously anticipating the "Seven-Minutes-in-Heaven" marathon we had planned for the evening behind cabin number six at exactly midnight. Cheryl, who slept in the bunk beneath mine and had a reckless case of premature acne, had a pack of Newports, which she had stolen from her stepmother's glove compartment during orientation, hidden inside a sock underneath her bed. Three of my other bunkmates, Cheryl, and I (perhaps the only ones at camp who loved Bon Jovi more than Jesus) would later smoke them with the boys, each of us with the feigned finesse of someone who had smoked cigarettes at least six times before. Meanwhile, we retained fragments of the impromptu sermon as best as eleven-year-olds could: free trip to Heaven…commitment…confession...repentance. Apparently we could sin without abandon for the rest of our lives and all we had to do was ask God for forgiveness and we were home-free, guaranteed a one-way ticket to the Promised Land. Well, Hallelujah.

"Children, obey your parents in all things."
-Colossians 3:20

The Wesley Forest United Methodist Youth Retreat was the first and only camp I had ever been to, more by circumstance than choice. My parents weren't so much religious as they were cheap. My father sometimes sat in the small yellow hallway between the bathroom and the kitchen with a bowl of Grapenuts in one hand and a stopwatch in the other, to ensure that our showers didn't exceed eight minutes. While some children may refuse to eat broccoli or steal change from their mother's purse in small increments, my older sister and I, in one of our first acts of rebellion against our father, would take long and indulgently hot showers when our parents were away. Joyously spiteful, we basked in our soapy rebellion until the water ran cold, high-fiving each other as we passed in the hallway. We also ate butter.

My family has always spoken the language of "free." The Hills department store on Route 15 gave away free hot dogs and cherry-flavored Icees every Saturday, and each week we piled into our baby blue hatchback, highway bound and hungry. Wednesday mornings at Mister Donut, every child under twelve got six free donut holes with the purchase of one very adult coffee. My dad would shell out the sixty-five cents for his coffee, pinching two donut holes from my sister and me so that we would all have an even four. It was only fair, he said, and we went to school satisfied and smiling each Wednesday, smelling of stale cigarettes and cake.

There was a McDonald's in the next town over, and although we were generally not allowed fast-food of any kind, exceptions were made sometimes on 39-cent cheeseburger day. I remember riding in the front seat with my father one afternoon, windows down, cruising for fifteen minutes alongside the Susquehanna, a Wagner cassette in the tape deck. "We'll have three 39-cent cheeseburgers and two waters," my father shouted into the drive-thru window with a thick Boston accent and an alarming sense of urgency. "I'm real sorry Sir, but the cheeseburger special was yesterday," a muffled voice replied from the speaker. My father thanked her, corrected her grammar, drove up past the pick-up window and kept going, straight back to our driveway.

So when I found a flier in our mail slot one fateful afternoon in May, green and black and screaming of summer and ice cream and flame-charred marshmallows impaled on twigs, I knew it would be an easy sell. Our church was prepared to fully fund any of its members for one week at a participating Bible camp, and I had been vigilantly schooled to never pass up a freebie of this magnitude. "Spend a Week in the Forest with God," the brochure read, and what kind of self-respecting rural Pennsylvania parent could say no to their child's request to spend a week with the Lord in an all-expense-paid-camping-extravaganza? I could taste the smores already.

"I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness."
- John 1:23

Seven days. We felt like savages, alone and wild in a world of cedar and lemonade; of berries you shouldn't eat and ridiculous songs you can't stop singing, louder and louder, obnoxious and smiling. Although we were hovering dangerously over the bottomless chasm of cynicism, some days we still believed in fantasy, or at least we allowed ourselves to be talked into believing -- we could still be ceaselessly entertained playing games like "house," "restaurant," or my favorite, "BG," which was code for boyfriend/girlfriend, a game similar to "house" but much more scandalous (hence the cunning use of only the first letters,) and which often amounted, for sheer lack of resources, to GG, in which one G had to pretend to be the B.

Give me gas in my Ford, keep me truckin'
Give me gas in my Ford I pray,
Give me gas in my Ford keep me truckin'
Keep me truckin' till the break of day.

Give me oil in my Nova help me witness for Jehovah
Give me oil in my Nova I pray,
Give me oil in my Nova help me witness for Jehovah
Help me witness till the break of day.


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